Best Microphone Preamps2020-07-26T21:24:51-04:00

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Best Microphone Preamps Reviewed


Best Microphone Preamp ReviewsWhen you listen back to your vocals as a musician or a sound engineer, do you find that they leave a lot to be desired? Microphone preamps are a very important part of crafting a professional and clean sound, yet they rarely get the kind of investment as preamps for other instruments.

As such, low-quality microphone preamps can leave recording artists with lackluster performance and suboptimal sound.

Of course, on the other hand, that means that effective microphone preamps can have a transformative impact on your sound. Finding the best microphone preamp isn’t always easy, however.

There are several considerations to keep in mind with mic pres, including the environment it is being used in, your budget, and any features that you might need in particular.

Below, we’re going to look at a range of the best microphone preamps, talking about their specific features, what kind of environment they fit, and whose needs they might satisfy in particular. We will look at whether they’re best suited for sizeable larger events, for recording in the studio, or for other kinds of personal and professional use.

This helps you find not only the preamp with the kind of power and presentation that you need, but also what sound characteristics and customization options the preamp offers.

If you’re finding that your vocal output needs a little sparkle and clearer projection, then finding the best preamplifier you can should be high on your list of priorities.

Check out our favorite Microphone Preamp:

Quality preamps can help even a home studio recording on a tight budget reach a level of quality that you might not otherwise be able to. If you’re still using the basic microphone preamps on your interface or mixer, now is the perfect time for an upgrade. Recent changes in technology have made that level of professional quality available to everyone.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best microphone preamps on the market!

Top Microphone Preamp Comparison Chart

Best Mic Preamp

1. Focusrite ISA One Classic Single-channel Mic Pre-Amp

Focusrite ISA One Mic Pre-Amp Review

Focusrite ISA One Mic Pre-Amp

This single-channel microphone preamp comes from a long line of Input Signal Amplifier models, a well-respected name in the world of standalone transformer based units. They have always been known for affordability mixed with professional sound quality – that’s welcome for mostly personal use, as well as the studio.

The Focusrite ISA One Classic was basically built as a single channel from a NEVE desk. For those who have some years in audio engineering, Rupert Neve recording consoles are the absolute pinnacle of vintage audio quality. As such, the Focusrite ISA One Classic carries all the performance and bulletproof signal path isolation expected from a classic Rupert Neve design.

Highly portable and unprecedented circuit topology, with all connections available on the front panel, it’s great for solo operators who are both performing and engineering their vocals and is highly accessible.

One great feature is that users can record using the microphone and DI at the same time, even allowing you to use a mix of the two inputs together, listening through the headphone jack. All the while, you can use the 4 input impedances to further customize the sound applied to your microphone.

This standalone unit is also built to connect to your DAW, thanks to a rear panel that includes digital outputs, XLR, and insert jacks. As such, the Focusrite sounds great mostly for vocals but works well with guitars and other acoustic instruments.

The warm sound from the Focusrite ISA One Classic is a welcome influence on vocals and acoustic guitar, it also couples nicely with vintage analog synth tones as well. At the same time, it might be less suited to some electronics such as a certain keyboard sounds.

Overall, this highly portable, accessible, and yet crisp sounding microphone preamp is a great fit for anyone who is looking to engineer their own sound or working with artists in the studio.

Focusrite ISA One Classic Single-channel Mic Pre-Amplifier with Independent D.I.
21 Reviews
Focusrite ISA One Classic Single-channel Mic Pre-Amplifier with Independent D.I.
  • Focusrite’s classic transformer-based ISA Pre amp design based on the original ISA 110 in a highly cost-effective and flexible package. Perfect for recording vocals, bass, Guitar, Broadcast, podcast, and vo
  • Flexible, independent DI channel, independent gain control, Output for routing to an amp, independent XLR output on the rear and routing to the optional A-D converter
  • Optional stereo 192kHz A-D converter: upgrade with an optional digital card that delivers the best A-D performance in its class, with a dynamic range of 118dB
  • Switchable Impedance: four input impedances that help shape your sound, including that of the original ISA 110
  • Dedicated insert point: allows you to place Extra processing between the Preamplifier or DI and the optional converter, such as an EQ or compressor. Focusrite now offers a 3-Year Warranty on this and all other Focusrite products.

2. dbx 286s Stereo 2-way Microphone Preamp

dbx 286s Microphone Preamp Review

dbx 286s Microphone Preamp

Flat and minimalist by design in comparison to the Focusrite, the DBX 286s is a flexible single-channel mic pickup with a wide range of vocal processing and sound customizing options at the user’s disposal.

A powerful solid-state mic preamp that also includes a range of features, such as gain, phantom power, and an 80 Hz High-Pass Filler. All of these are adjustable, with further effects like a compressor, de-Esser, expander gate, and enhancer.

This means that this preamp can help you prepare vocal and acoustic audio in a wide variety of ways, from cleaning it up for amplification on the big stage, to isolating your voice alone if, for instance, you’re recording a vocal track or podcast in a studio or even in a slightly noisier home.

The sheer flexibility of the different settings sets this far apart from any other preamps in the same price range and it works well for many musical instruments too.

Affordable as it is, it has decent sound quality as well, making it a great tool for beginners who are looking to improve their quality in less-than-professional environments.

However, it doesn’t have quite as many output functions as some of the others on this list, meaning that additional adapters may be needed to use it in a more professional studio environment.

Overall, however, the versatility, accessibility, and reliability of the dbx 286s make it a worth entry-level microphone preamp for a variety of users.

dbx 286s Stereo 2-Way, Mono 4-Way Crossover with Mic XLR connectors
315 Reviews
dbx 286s Stereo 2-Way, Mono 4-Way Crossover with Mic XLR connectors
  • Studio quality mic preamp/channel strip processor
  • Classic dbx compression puts great sound within easy reach
  • Frequency tuneable de-esser reduces sibilance and high frequency distortion
  • Enhancer increases the detail and definition of the high and low frequencies
  • Program adaptive expander/Gate. Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz

3. Warm Audio WA12 MkII Microphone Preamp

Warm Audio WA12 MkII Microphone Preamp Review

Warm Audio WA12 MkII Mic Preamp

Another flat, studio-ready piece equipment, the Warm Audio WA12 MkII is an updated version of the traditional 312 preamp complete with four-channels.

Transformer-based but with simple circuit design, this preamp provides a clean and streamlined sound that focuses not only on upping volume but on focusing it to ensure nothing is drowned out during the amplification, with little distortion at all.

This one is notable in particular due to its high sound quality, even as it brings four separate tracks together without blurring the lines between them at all.

As such, it’s great for recording not only vocals, but also works with piano, guitars, drums, and even electronic instruments. Easily one of the most versatile options on the list.

Otherwise, this microphone preamp is known for providing a clean and warm sound to the audio it’s applied to. It comes with a range of front controls, such as Hi Z, Phantom Power, Pad, Polarity Switch, and a Tone button, some of these features not found on any of the other preamps reviewed here.

However, it is also one of the more expensive preamps we’re looking at here, so you should ensure that you get your money’s worth out of it. If you’re looking for preamp for vocals alone, such as if you’re a solo vocalist or recording a podcast, this might be more than what you need. But for versatile studio work, it’s entirely worthy of your consideration.

Warm Audio WA12 MkII Microphone Preamp
4 Reviews
Warm Audio WA12 MkII Microphone Preamp
  • "Utilizes premium grade input and output USA CineMag transformers 71db of Gain, fully discrete signal path Utilizes a discrete 6-pin socketed 1731 style opamp TONE button - Switches the input impedance from 600 ohms to 150 ohms Mic level balanced input: XLR"
  • "A lot of preamps on the market do a good job of raising the volume of mics and instruments
  • Unfortunately, many pres are doing only that, raising volume
  • The aoeSuper cleana designs of today often leave the signal exiting the preamp sounding much the same as it did entering it
  • If you are looking for a preamp to improve and shape your signal you will most definitely love the WA12 MKII

4. Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator Preamp

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Preamp Review

Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Preamp

An incredibly small and specifically purpose-built mic preamp, you will immediately notice that the Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 does not come with many of the features you will see in any of the other options here.

The dimensions of this preamp are under 2x2x5 inches, so there isn’t much room for anything in the ways of adjusting your audio or having a series of different inputs and outputs.

However, the Cloudlifter does have a specific purpose and it is built well to meet that specific purpose. This is to ensure that high-end dynamic microphones get the power that they need to use them to their full effect.

If your mic isn’t getting a good sound off of your USB connection alone, then this can give it up to 25 decibels of gain without muddying the sound at all.

While the Cloudlifter is undoubtedly very limited in use, it’s also a lot less expensive than any of the other preamps reviewed here as a direct result.

It’s great for people who are working alone and with digital equipment, primarily, thanks to its compatibility with USB interfaces. As such, if you’re a home studio guru, in-studio podcaster, or you’re recording your voice for any reason and you don’t need a preamp other than to improve the overall quality of your vocal output, then this niche product is doing to do precisely what you need it to.

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator
441 Reviews
Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator
  • Uses Phantom power to give passive mics (mainly used for dynamic and ribbon mics) up to +25dB without passing Phantom power on to mic
  • Easy to use self contained design requires only Phantom power to work. **Does not use Phantom power to power mics
  • Recommended for use with all passive dynamic microphones
  • Compatible with tube, battery, or power supply driven microphones – safe for all passive ribbons with no transfer of Phantom
  • Does not power the mics themselves using Phantom power (that is not what this is designed for). instead, place the cloudlifter at the front of your dynamic mic, then hit it with Phantom Power and your basic mic (even an SM58 style mic) will shine like never before

5. Presonus TubePre v2 Tube Mic Preamp

Presonus TubePre v2 Tube Microphone Preamp Review

Presonus TubePre v2 Tube Mic Preamp

While perhaps not as minimalist as the Cloudlifter, the Presonus Tube Pre v2 is a pocket-sized desktop ready microphone preamp that’s easy to fit into any studio or home studio.

This simple one-channel preamp is one of the cheapest options available here, though most except for the Cloudlifter make up for that with multiple channels. Despite its single channel, it is somewhat more versatile than it might appear, as it can be used for both microphones and instruments such as guitar, bass, or piano.

This device comes with a very straightforward interface, with dials for both how much drive (aka saturation) and gain you want on the audio track. There are also buttons that turn on the polarity feature, enable the instrument input, turn on a high-pass filter (which mutes sounds under 80hz) and a phantom power button on the bottom right, which is vital for high-end dynamic microphones.

Lastly, it shows a VU meter which shows the recording signal. At the back, are two inputs, one for microphone and one for an instrument, as well as XLR and ¼” outputs.

Given its low price, the sound quality of the Presonus TubePre v2 is not quite as high as the others featured on the list. However, as affordable as it is, you still get a decent improvement on your mic sounds, not to mention a device that’s hardy, easy to transport, and highly accessible.

Sale
Presonus TubePre v2 Tube Preamplifier DI Box
51 Reviews
Presonus TubePre v2 Tube Preamplifier DI Box
  • 12AX7 tube-based preamp with XMAX solid-state input stage
  • Gain control and Tube Drive saturation control
  • Low-noise dual-servo (no capacitors) gain stage
  • Separate instrument and mic inputs
  • Phantom power, HP filter, -20 dB pad, and polarity-reverse

Top Mic Preamp Features To Consider

Each of the options above can suit different needs, whether you’re someone recording acoustic tracks from home and need an affordable access to cleaner, high-quality sound or someone who needs to mix and adjust multiple channels to the best possible effect. Here, we’re going to look at some of the qualities you want to take a closer look at when you’re choosing a device to suit your needs.

Quality and budget

There are decent quality affordable mic preamps, some of them featured above. However, you don’t want to skimp too much, as often this means you’re sacrificing the kind of clean sound that you want in the first place. Be sure to look at reviews for the devices that match your budget. If you want to access high-quality more affordably, then you might need to look at doing without some of the features mentioned below.

Inputs and outputs

Some preamps have a broader range of inputs and outputs than others. Multiple different inputs can mean that you can connect different mics and instruments to the device with ease. However, different input formats can make a difference on the sound, as well. DI jacks allow you to record directly into the DAW as well, as mentioned in some of the options above. Meanwhile, while nearly all mic preamps use an XLR jack for a standard mic output, some also use 3’4@ TRS jacks.

Channels

Don’t get it confused, a preamp can receive sound from multiple inputs, such as a microphone and an instrument, but still be a single-channel preamp, contrary to what newer users might think. Channels allow you to independently adjust the quality and customization features on the different inputs, however. If you have a single channel device but with multiple inputs, then all instruments/microphones are going to be adjusted the exact same by the device. The usual varieties are single channel, dual channel, and four channels. The above reviews include an example of which so know which kind you want.

Sound Customization Features

Some of the preamps above do not let the user do too much to adjust the sound of their output. Some of them simply clean them up enough to make higher-quality amplification possible. However, if you’re picky about the quality of your sound, then you need to look at features like phantom power, a digital A/D converter to allow you to record directly to your DAW, a stereo link to let you combine modules, and low-cut filters that can mute sounds of low frequencies, helping you clean up the sound even further.

With the above in mind, there is no clear-cut answer to which of the devices we have reviewed here is the “best.” Some are good for recording vocals alone, others are highly versatile and can be used in just about any environment. Choosing the best microphone preamp means knowing what exactly you need and which features can help you achieve that.